Engagement is Beautiful

One thing many people often forget is that engagement does not describe a status so much as it describes an activity.

People who are familiar with my thinking — and even moreso the thinking of the giants I sometimes attempt to jump up on their backs — may recognize the similarity of this post’s title with the title of a collection of essays by E. F. Schumacher (namely “Small is Beautiful”). Ideally, this book would be required reading for anyone with the ability to read at the level of college freshman. But I digress….

Engagement is not merely a matter of choosing a ring, making promises and exchanging a kiss. First and foremost, to engage is to participate… and even beyond mere participation, it is a binding commitment and a recognition of an inseparable interconnection… that our lives are intertwined, some might even say something like interdependent.

It doesn’t need a ring.  It need not leave a trace. It is here and now, but not necessarily manifest “in real life”. It is both visible and also invisible at one and the same time.

Yet in this moment I wish to leave philosophy aside a little, and focus instead on a very commonplace kind of engagement, something more mundane, so common that is might even be considered downright vulgar… — at least in some communities.

In literate society, there is something known as “online” — and also “online engagement”. Online is the presence of someone’s attention within the sphere known as the world-wide web. Online engagement is their active participation in the online space.

Up until now, online engagement has been assumed to result in some manifestation, some kind of virtual media trail in cyberspace that roughly corresponds to what is commonly referred to as a “paper trail” in paper-space. This might be a media file, or it might be just a couple bits that get passed along as the result of a click, a swipe, the press of a button, the movement of a smartphone through the ether of the physical “real world”, etc. As you might be able to guess from what I have written above, I want to change that.

My concept of online engagement is more on a cognitive level: It is at the level of caring. I do not restrict the notion of engagement to such statements as “I did not engage in any sexual activity with X”. The way I see it, simply caring about X is already an act of engagement… — engagement is possible even if no bits are involved.

This is so because I view engagement in a way quite similar to the way people think about being able to speak a language. To be fluent in a language does not require that the speaker constantly speak all of the words in that language (indeed, this seems more like a nonsensical construct — it is not even possible to speak [or even think of] more than one word at a time). Yet we do realize that there are people who can speak a language… and that means they can express their ideas with words at a level that is appropriate in any given situation (and that they can also understand the meanings of other people’s expressions in a similar manner). Therefore, when people choose to express some ideas, they also choose not to express other ideas. This vacuum, null and void of any “data bits”, is nonetheless a choice of engagement in X and also an act of avoiding something that might be referred to as “not X”. Disengagement, however, is something else… — more like disinterest, disentanglement, indifference, independence and so on.

I want to sum this up and come to a preliminary close. We can choose to engage online — sometimes more, sometimes less. We will participate in some things in some ways, and we will not participate in other things at all. We cannot participate in everything, everywhere, all the time. If we engage in a thousand different things, then our level of engagement will be relatively thin across all of those things. If we choose to engage in only 10 things, then our narrow focus may be parochial. That said, there are so far no clear measures of engagement.

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People as Content: Virtual Content vs. “In Real Life” (IRL) Content

Whenever we look through a kaleidoscope and make even the smallest of adjustments, the new picture that results can become very different from the one we were just looking at a moment ago (this is a favorite metaphor my mother sometimes likes to invoke). Here, I see a similarity with how even a small amount of feedback can jar the world in such a way that many of our long-held views can seem “new” (and hopefully also “improved” ;) ).

My friend who raised the question in the previous post also gave much more feedback, including what might be called “positive” or “constructive” criticism, suggestions and so on. Although I don’t see a clear line to what I want to write about now, I could see that many of the “positive” vs. “negative” value judgements we often make are not helpful in order to “move forward” — and this aspect is also something my friend mentioned directly.

Regardless of how (or who) came up with this idea, I now feel I have made a significant observation with respect to a long-held truism that is bandied about all around any industry that has anything to do with the Internet: “the most important thing is content” — that’s what “theysay.

When they say this, it is usually implied that they are referring to words on the page, graphic design, images, photos, logos, videos, audios, … any of a wide range of what is usually now collectively referred to as “media” (and note how this use of the term “media” is very different from the way Marshall McLuhan might have used the term — and this is yet another good example of why jargon matters [as I mentioned just a few days ago]). That may all be good and fine from the perspective of “search engine optimization” (SEO) … as I also mentioned just yesterday. So if you want to impress a machine, and if you want some newbie monkey to click on your link, then this is definitely the way to go.

Note, however, that many of the peoplein real life” (IRL) have already moved on. They no longer spend time playing Google games, they no longer tinker and toy around with image tags, keyword density, … they have already given Google the “nofollow” card. That train has already left the station — if you are still trying to catch it, then you are trying to board an outdated technology (and I refer to all such outdated technologies collectively as “retard media”).

Where have all the “IRL” people gone? For the past several years, they went to Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook. These days, they may very well “hang out” at websites like Pinterest, Instagram, and “instant messaging” services like Whatsapp. Increasingly, these are the same “suckers” who were willing to click on almost any link — now they are willing to install almost any app… and thereby be tracked by almost any data mining / business intelligence organization. Since they have not become more literate in the meantime, they are just as naive as they have been since pretty much the first days of the Internet.

IRL people are more important than virtual content. Virtual content doesn’t pay the bills — IRL people do.

Any good webdesigner will tell you what is the most important webdesign feature: White space. If you clutter a page with useless links and/or useless content, the user you are trying to reach with your multitasking messages will probably simply opt out and leave the page. If you look at most of the web 2.0 success stories, they will have this one thing in common: a lack of virtual content (on the page). All of the “ands, ifs or buts” are cleanly hidden in never-read documents named “user policy”, “terms of service” and so on.

Knowledgeable people analyze such documents, but newbies generally don’t. They will be amazed when they figure out that they have been sold down the river, but by that time the people who created these “most successful” services will have already cashed out. Expect many more tombstones to join Geocities, Friendster, Myspace, and litter the web 2.0 graveyard in the not-too-distant future.

Which companies will survive the second crash? I am not sure if any will, but I think those companies who put less emphasis on more content and more emphasis on real people with real qualifications will not only reduce their data transmission costs but also increase the likelihood of their own survival.

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Is the way people are just the way they are, rather than being “wrong”?

A good friend asked me this, and I appreciate that honest feedback very much.

My answer: No. People make mistakes. There is nothing special about humans — whether they are acting religiously or whether they are fanatical about following some “scientific method”. There is nothing so noble about humanity that makes any and every human thought valid and praiseworthy simply on account of how the thought was apparently “created” by a human.

My friend posed this question in part because of my very “critical” view of mass illiteracy — i.e., people believing that if they write a couple words into Google’s search engine, they will receive a “factual” answer… and they will have just as much faith in such answers as the members of any other religion have in their own prophets, saviors, oracles, or whatever. Yet the belief that there could be some mathematical formula (or even a set of formulas) that is able to separate truth from falsehood in every case imaginable is nothing short of ludicrously ridiculous.

The mass of noobs search Google in infantile naiveté.

What they get in response is a flood of propaganda that has been “optimized” to pass through the bowels of a plethora of mesmerizing formulas with little or no reasoning beyond acting as a maze of floodgates to block a global deluge of advertising messages from rushing in to every nook and cranny of every “search engine result page” (SERP) imaginable. The results that pass the “Search Engine Optimization” (SEO) test are mostly meaningless — they have been so carefully optimized, that they are devoid of any intelligible meaning whatsoever. They are nothing more than a set of texts that are able to “fool” a machine into thinking they might be meaningful. For a human, however, they are utterly useless.

But Google shareholders need not be alarmed — indeed: This is actually part and parcel of the company’s business model. Since the “organic results” are utterly useless, businesses can be easily motivated to pay money in order to get their results optimized for humans (and in particular: suckers) in front of the eyes of billions and billions of newbies who are ready, willing, and perhaps even able to buy almost anything (as long as clicking is FREE, who cares? — right?). And so businesses all across the globe waste vast amounts of resources to do little more than pay monkeys to click on links. As long as this system holds up, GOOG seems like a stock to hold on to (and perhaps even buy more of).

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Topics as Locations: Physical Location vs. Virtual Location

There are many people who get very excited about local search… — and so do I; but only a very few think about location in a way that could be described as even just remotely similar to the way I think about it.

For most people, location is a place you go. For work, they go to some kind of business location or some so-called “office space”. The might work shifts at a factory, they might grab something to eat at a coffee shop or corner deli, sleep at home and so on. Most people who get excited about “local search” want to guide suckers into buying something as they move from place to place. I don’t have anything against that idea — it’s just that I don’t find it particularly exciting.

What I find exciting is being on the same page. Although a big part of that has to do with the words and languages we use to communicate with one another, it also important to underscore that words are puzzle pieces — and therefore only small bits of a much greater mosaic. One word alone actually has little or no meaning whatsoever. It is the way a word is used (and the context in which the word is used) that gives it meaning.

Each context has its own vocabulary — it’s own jargon. Many people consider jargon to be a “negative” term, but I think that is mainly because they are uncomfortable with thinking about language as a context-dependent phenomenon. For example, few people would consider the phrase “I do” to be a very specific jargon term in the context of marriage ceremonies.

Instead, the vast majority of people prefer a simpleton view that one word has one meaning — regardless of context. These are the kind of people you will reach if you advertise your products and services on a one-size fits-all search engine like google.com — and if you do, then this will be the community you choose to interact and “do business” with.

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Money Doesn’t Make Us Happy

Many people seem to make some kind of logical mistake (I wish I knew more fancy latin names for the type of logical errors people make in their reasoning — then I could perhaps add a neato phrase here to impress people).

Obviously, people want to be happy. There are some things many people believe will make them happy — and since many people believe that, the demand for such things is generally quite large. Since the demand for such things is quite large (and since such things are also quite often in limited supply), it is quite common for their market price to be high enough to give those people who want these popularly demanded objects the impression that they need money to get these things (and therefore also that they need money to become happy).

I do not doubt that quite a few people who are reading this are thinking to themselves “oh, but you do need money to buy food and a roof over your head”. Note that I never said you don’t… — and the reason why I didn’t say that is mainly because I don’t want to argue that point (though I feel like I could, I find it far simpler to simply point out that the amount of money actually needed for survival is quite small… indeed: so small that I consider it to be negligible [perhaps with the possible exception of some life-threatening medical conditions]). Yet again I digress from the main point….

The main point is that money and happiness are (in my humble opinion) definitely not interchangeable measures — to think that to measure happiness, you could simply measure money instead is undoubtedly a gross error.

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In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act

On wikipedia.org, it is debated whether this line is a quote by George Orwell or not. Even worse: On yahoo.com, there is this question: What does “In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act” mean? :|

The reason why I bring up this quote (regardless of who it was that said or wrote it) is that it illustrates the phenomenon I wrote about in my last post. If the society you live in requires you to lie, then that behavior is a widely adopted handle in that society.

Compare another quote (attributed to Viktor Frankl): “The last of human freedoms – the ability to choose one’s attitude in a given set of circumstances.” If the circumstances are a society that tries to force you to lie, then it is nonetheless up to the individual to choose  what to do.

A similar scenario commonly quoted is the exchange between Emerson and Thoreau, after Thoreau had been jailed for not paying taxes. Apparently, Emerson asked Thoreau what he is doing in jail. Thoreau answered by asking Emerson what he is doing in society.

If your life depends on lying to people and using manipulative and deceptive practices in order to trick people into buying overpriced junk, then this behavior will sooner or later become a pillar of your world view.

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The Theory of Handles and Relationships

In a sense, this is a theory of what it means to be a theory… — but that would actually make it appear rather insignificant. It is much more: It is also a description of relationships, and the role these play in our daily lives, and in our incessant search for love and the meaning of life in general.

This is a theory of cognition, and in particular of semantics. Handles are viewed as a subset of words (which are themselves subsets of language). Each handle is viewed as an especially significant sign of meaning, existence, or simply some sort of cognitive element in the mixed-up ether that makes up the universe of all ideas whatsoever.

Every person, human, being or life form is presumed to have the faculty to acquire and hold a number of such handles. The lower bound of this number range is 2. Everything is assumed to have a concept of at least 2 handles (for example: “myself” and “everything else”). The upper bound is far more variable — for the sake of argument, let me arbitrarily assume that the number for humans is on the order of 2000 (in part simply because the range 2-2000 is easy to remember). The range will vary not only across species, but also across all individuals within e.g. “human beings”. More is not better or worse than less — it is simply different.

Note that the vocabulary of words (and therefore of concepts in general) is assumed to be greater than the number of handles. The subset of handles is assumed to be something like a catalog of concepts used to orient thinking, speculation, interests, etc. Hence, for example: We might guess that for physicists such as Newton, Copernicus, Galileo and Kepler… that they might have all used a handle such as “motion” (whether or not they used the same language — that does not deserve to be the focus of our attention at this moment). This simply means that “motion” is simply one of the handles they might have used, much in the same way that a painter might carry a palette of colors as they paint a picture of the way they see the world.

The relationship between handles and relationships is by and large undefined — mostly because we have not examined these phenomena sufficiently to understand that such a relationship exists. This theory simply hypothesizes that there are some ways that handles and relationships are related… in a “wishful thinking” sort of way. It may be that well-defined mathematical formulas and algorithms are shared among the corresponding handles, or perhaps it may be that people in a relationship share a “way of thinking” about things that is related… — such as that Bob Dylan and John Lennon both might tend to think about things as songs, or that both William Shakespeare and Dylan Thomas tend to think in narrative manners, or that Vincent Van Gogh and Michelangelo might have thought in visual terms.

Since the precise manner in which handles and relationships are related is undefined, the “open” nature of the theory also depicts the individual as free to choose the manner in which to “construct” handles. It is hypothesized that the more relationships correspond in some (as yet unknown) manner, the closer, the deeper, the more significant the relationship is between two (or more) people. Perhaps different kinds of relationships also have different kinds of regularities among the manners in which handles correspond — such that friends might tend to have similar handle configurations, and that lovers might be more prone to complementary handles.

All such speculations are entirely unknown and remain yet-to-be examined.

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Loving Heartstrings: The Search for Meaning is a Quest for Love

Over the holidays, I have been mildly entertained by people discussing what are the best bang-for-your-buck opportunities for consumption… — this or that party, celebration, offer, whatever. I do not claim to be entirely innocent of the “quest for deals” scene, but I have to say the commercialization of experiences has become rather blasé and is no longer truly enticing for me. Free junk and get more for your money are not even close the kind of thrill I seek these days.

What I want is meaning: I want someone to tell me their story in a way that involves me, that pulls at my heartstrings so strongly that I cannot resist but to pour out my heart and plead for more, plus to open the opportunity for me to get my foot in the door… to cross the threshold of perception into a realm that we, not just me, engage in together.

Why do I want others to speak to me? Why can’t I just as well talk to them? Well, the answer may surprise you. I can choose to participate, but I cannot force others to do so… — but, then: how can I force them to speak? I can’t. But nature does. No one can not speak. Everyone is always sending out messages — even if that message is something like “I have locked myself in my room and I refuse to open up to you.”

Such a message tells me something. It pulls on my heartstrings. I want to become engaged, I want to participate… somehow, in a “positive” way, as best as I can.

Such engagement gives my life meaning. My life is not isolated. I cannot not react. Our existence is about you and me. We are interwoven with us and them. 8-)

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Regarding Random Rituals, Recognition, Response, Resolution and Revolution

Do you think it’s time to start again? So do I — every day!

I want to start up this blog post revisiting what I took up the other day (in my previous post — there must be link lying around somewhere)… and add a little twist (which you might have done yourself — but just in case you were too lazy, I’ll pick it up and do it for you ;) ).

It’s not a great leap from where I was to the idea that recognition is something that leads to slavery — and since I (like Mick Jagger) don’t wanna be your slave, recognition is not a metric that I need to care about.

On the other hand, the vast majority are very fixated on counting beans — and all this coolbeans business is in part due to a steep fall in the price of bean counters (over the past couple decades). These days, you can’t take two steps before stumbling over yet another measurement guru — but just between you and me: even nit-pickers don’t count the crap these nut-jobs pay attention to (perhaps they have a different perception of “virtual reality” than what might be considered normal).

With ever more bots chasing each other around — and counting, measuring up, and otherwise following and tracking and screwing up each other’s nuts and bolts — there is definitely an inflation in the meaning of numbers… and numeracy has quite certainly become somewhat of a bubble market. But I digress….

I had actually resolved to write about resolutions — and I don’t mean graphic.If you actually plan to resolve to do something, let me present you with a little thought experiment: Let’s say (just for kicks) that you can either change the world (let’s also assume the change is “for the better“) or your level of recognition in the world, but not both. Which would you prefer? If you don’t know my answer to that question, then I think you should be more concerned about your reading skills than New Year’s resolutions.

Assuming you have been able to figure out my answer, let me reward you with a wonderful tidbit that was shared with me this morning — it’s a quote:

Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

This quote is attributed to Viktor Frankl, but I have yet to read its source (his book titled “Man’s Search for Meaning”). I have read quite a lot about Viktor Frankl, but still have read none of his writings (in their entirety). The reason why I consider this quote interesting is because of the way the word “response” is used. I think a “scientist” might view this as an observation made by someone other than the person choosing (i.e., from an “objective” perspective). My gut tells me, though, that Viktor Frankl might have preferred an interpretation that the subject (at least) also subscribes to (and thereby gives meaning to).

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It’s always me that ends up getting wet

I was thinking of some lyrics from a song by Sting earlier — and I’ll get to that in a moment — but what happened is that I sat down and watched his “All This Time” DVD, because I thought this episode from Sting’s life (and how he interpreted it) might have something to say to me right now.

First let me say that of course the “backstory” part of the DVD does a good job of promoting Sting… even though I also think he is probably one of the best songwriters of our time. In this part, Sting reveals some of the thinking behind his songwriting —  and one thing I found particularly interesting is the way he says a song is sort of something shared between the songwriter and the listener, in the sense of being a vibe that channels both writer’s and listener’s feelings and experiences. In this sense, when Sting sings “it’s always me”, he is also sort of saying that he also acknowledges that it’s also always you.

The thing that motivated me to watch this film now is in part this sentiment of “it’s always me”… but also that I remembered that the film is somewhat of a documentary of how events rained on his parade in a very significant way: The birthday party Sting spent a lot of time, money and effort orchestrating was pretty much ruined by something chaotic, entirely beyond his control, and again, it seems, Sting ended up getting wet. :| The entire event had a very somber aura, and this was very much not the fault of any of the people who participated.

The lyrics I was thinking of when I turned to get the movie were also a long-time favorite of mine: “If you love somebody, set them free”. This is really the crux of what I was thinking about, and it also applies to loving yourself.

In this case, my thinking goes like this: If you love yourself, then you will neither berate yourself, nor will you allow others to berate you. If you love others, then you will not berate them… — and you will also not allow them to berate you. If you allowed them to berate you, then you would not be allowing them to set you free (or, in other words: to love you). Any kind of “rating scheme” whatsoever is an indication of a lack of trust in the other person, an unwillingness to let them live their life the way they want to (as another great songwriter, Jimi Hendrix, once put it).

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